A common expression in marketing is “Sell the sizzle, not the steak.” Although the consumer might need food for sustenance, it’s the sound of the sizzle that makes them want a steak instead of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

Branding on beverage trucks goes way back to when it was “horse power,” rather than “horsepower” moving the product. Although the branding aspect of truck graphics has come a long way since then, more recent advances in large-format printing technology have made it much more cost-effective to add some sizzle to a truck’s graphic messaging.

Of course in the beverage biz, it’s thirst, not sizzle, that drives the consumer’s purchasing decision from the logical side to the emotional side, but the principle is the same — thirsty consumers are more motivated than those who are just brand-aware.

In this year’s Beverage Fleet Graphics Competition, we’re going to peek behind the artist’s canvas and look at how the top entrants are driving both thirst and branding through their truck graphics and messaging.

Photo realism
Mickey Truck Bodies

Although photo realism has been a category in our competition from the start, the quality of the art here is advancing at an impressive pace. Image resolution, which used to be marginal from anything less than 10 feet away, quickly is catching up to what one might expect from a high-definition TV, adding a more realistic, enticing quality to the truck graphics.

Improved resolution is leading to improved realism, while computer graphics technology is taking a good photo above and beyond reality with special effects that might be equally at home in a blockbuster action movie.

This year’s pick for the Best of Photo Realism is Mickey Truck Bodies of Highpoint, N.C., for its Faygo Redpop graphics. For the uninitiated outside the Midwest, Redpop is the flagship flavor from Detroit-based Faygo Beverages, a flavor so iconic that it was featured in a song as part of a cross-promotional branding campaign decades ago.

Given the iconic status of Redpop, it was the obvious choice when Faygo’s creative agency, TMV Group, developed the graphic for the Mickey 14-bay side-loader.

For the Midwestern baby boomers that grew up on Redpop, memories of the electric red color of the drink and the mere mention of the flavor are more than enough to inspire genuine thirst. For an entirely new generation of consumers, the forced perspective displaying the glistening bottle, lying in a bed of crystal-clear ice, is just as enticing as the most heavily produced TV commercials, but as a still image on the side of a truck. If not for the depicted
24-foot height, one could be tempted to reach out and grab the bottle, which is what makes this advertising effective.

Spanish Language Messaging
Golden Eagle Distributors

Nearly 15 percent of the total U.S. population is Spanish-speaking, and the rate is even higher in most major metropolitan areas. Many beverage bottlers/distributors are missing out on a huge market by foregoing the use of at least some Spanish language in its truck graphic messaging.

Although the prior example emphasizes the importance of including strong visual images, the de facto abandonment of messaging on a truck’s graphics can take away as much as the visuals add. Keeping the ultimate limits of a still image on the side of a truck in mind, the messaging is as important as the graphics when it comes to selling thirst.

Given the high concentration of Spanish speakers in its local market, Golden Eagle Distributors of Tucson, Ariz., takes the “Out-of-the-Box Thinking” honors for working with its in-house graphics department to create custom Spanish language graphics for two vehicles featuring Bud Light and Michelob Utra. A 48-foot Bud Light trailer suggests that consumers “Celebra Con Estilo,” or ”Celebrate With Style” in English, and a 28-foot Michelob trailer that invites consumers to “Vive Tu Vida A La Ultra,” which translates to”Live the Ultra Life.”

Craft Beer Variety
Cavalier Distributors

The craft beer market also has been part of the magazine’s competition from the start, driven in large part by the match between local brands and the localized nature of truck advertising. Most craft brewers have no need for the cost or reach of national advertising.

Although a limited budget might preclude the most exotic graphic options, a craft brewer’s secret weapon for creating thirst lies in the wide variety of seasonal and specialty beers it offers. It’s no coincidence that the iconic “31” (flavors) always has been the largest element in Baskin-Robbins’ logo. Chocolate and vanilla have wide appeal, but everybody has that one “different” flavor that they crave and only can get at Baskin-Robbins.

In a market mired in generic pilsners and ales, the craft brewer offers the welcome change, and even with a limited range of three to six offerings displayed in a truck’s graphics, at least one is bound to hit the thirst button with the majority of beer drinkers.

 Cavalier Distributing of Cincinnati takes this year’s Craft Beer Graphics award for its truck featuring the offerings of Littleton, Colo.-based Breckenridge Brewery. One side and the back of the truck feature the brewer’s flagship beers, and the other side features the current seasonal specialty beer, Autumn Ale, as shown in the entry photos. A “Traxx” framing system allows Cavalier to easily and cost-effectively change out the seasonal graphics.